When Disney’s Day the Dead themed movie “Coco” won two Oscars in 2018, national attention largely focused on the symbolism of its all-Latino voice cast. But another critical theme emerged that is just as meaningful: its artful portrayal of memory loss and caregiving in Latino households.
Coco’s narrative echoes the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and brings to life vibrant and relatable characters spanning generations. At the center is Coco, the matriarch of the Rivera family whose deteriorating memory advances the plot in touching and unexpected ways. The story weaves together a powerful tale of tradition, heritage, and the frailty of memory.
This theme is becomingly increasingly common in communities across the country as society ages. In fact, by 2030, it is projected that 40% of Americans living with Alzheimer’s diseases and related dementias will be Latino or African American.
Coco’s depiction of caregiving and dementia presents the healthcare community with a helpful tool for raising awareness of dementia and sparking a conversation about an often stigmatized subject.
UsAgainstAlzheimer’s has been working in the greater Kansas City region with six community partners and the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center (KU ADC) to increase levels of Alzheimer’s awareness, health literacy, and research participation through tailored community engagement practices, including Coco film screenings. This approach is having an impact, demonstrating increased knowledge about this highly stigmatized disease.
The film and accompanying online campaign has generated buzz among Latino caregivers and folks touched by the disease, including animator Lalo Alcaraz who served as a cultural consultant on Coco.
A year later, it continues to bring communities together around Alzheimer’s research and education.
While not a silver bullet for addressing the inequities that exist in Alzheimer’s research and care, Coco and the cultural tradition of Dia de Los Muertos can be helpful for building bridges between communities often disconnected by distance, culture, and mistrust. Most importantly, it reminds us that culture can be an asset for addressing health disparities.